KL Food Trip: Stingray Curry Mee

I don’t know how Noid searches out these places, but she manages to find new ones every time we visit. Tucked away in a nondescript coffee shop called Hai Keng Restaurant is a humble hawker stall that serves up a mean bowl of curry mee. Singaporeans will more likely call it laksa, but it’s slightly different from the usual laksa lemak made famous by 328 Katong Laksa.

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The gravy is a thin curry that isn’t too lemak, i.e. with only a smidge of coconut milk for richness. It’s a bit of a hybrid as they add lime juice just before serving, so this is sour, spicy and slightly rich all at once. You can choose from laifun, which is thick rice noodles typically used in assam laksa, or yellow wheat noodles normally used in traditional KL curry mee. I liked how schizophrenic it tasted to me, as the mint leaves, lime juice and laifun lulled  my mind into thinking that it’s more like assam laksa. Then the hint of coconut milk and squishy taupok (tofu puffs) reminded me that it’s quite like Singaporean laksa too. But what set it aside was the stingray accompaniment. It came as a thick, succulent slab that added juicy seafood flavour to the whole concoction. The clams were decent too, but just couldn’t compete with the stingray.

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DC had yellow noodles with roast pork topping in addition to the stingray. Even though the roast pork skin was a bit soft, the flavour of the pork was very decent and goes much better with the curry mee and stingray. Order this combination if you’re in doubt. My one criticism of this place is that while they’d arranged my clams artfully in the bowl, they forgot to add long beans to mine. I only realised belatedly that I had been somewhat shortchanged. No matter, the beansprouts in mine were fresh and crunchy.

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While you’re at Hai Keng Restaurant, be sure to order the kopi. The strong local brew is thick and heady with a rich aroma, probably because the coffee beans are roasted with butter. Either that or they add a dab of butter with the condensed milk. The standard hot version and the iced versions are equally good.

Fu Shou Lou Nonya Seafood Curry Mee
Hai Keng Restaurant – near to Digital Mall
Jalan 14/20 (Seksyen 14), Petaling Jaya,
Selangor 46100, Malaysia

[GPS Coordinates: 03 06 629 N, 101 38 117 E]

KL Food Trip: Fatty Crab

It being my birthday weekend, Noid tried to fatten me up as much as possible. She took us to Restoran Fatty Crab, a bit of an institution for the crustacean. We were told to turn up earlier or face a long wait as the place doesn’t take reservations. We were lucky enough to turn up just in time to grab the last good table there – good being far away from the sinks and the satay grilling area. All tables were covered by the same kind of maroon table cloth so threadbare there were plenty of holes in each. After each table was done, they wrapped up all the discarded shells in the cloth and whisked it off, laying a fresh holey one for the next set of customers.

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No matter, we were here for the food and started off with a small serving of four chicken wings. They were nicely marinated and generously portioned – see how we got a bonus drumlet? It was just enough to whet the appetite.

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We had mixed views of the other appetiser of century egg. While DC really liked the soft texture of the centres, I didn’t fancy the slight whiff of ammonia. DC was quite pleased to take the last piece that Noid found a bit too rich.

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Next came the fried rice, which was masterfully made. Each grain was firm and separate from the other. There was a nice crunch from lightly cooked long bean and carrot bits. But the best part was the crab roe fried into the rice. I liked how it lightly seasoned so that you could enjoy it with the other dishes. It complemented rather than clamour for attention against the piece de resistance.

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Ah yes, the crab! We ordered smaller crabs for sweeter meat. My first piece was a bit off, but the second piece was beautifully fresh and sweet. Even the meat within the spindly legs were worth my while. The sauce itself is quite different from the regular chilli sauce. Here, it’s more sweet and sour with pronounced chilli spiciness. It’s the slow burn type that doesn’t hit till you’ve dug in to at least half your crab piece and your nose starts watering from the heat. The sauce is especially good with the fried rice. DC walloped loads of it, but Noid found it a bit too spicy to eat that way.

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We were shocked to be told that the place doesn’t do any kind of vegetables. My jaw fairly dropped with surprise. This is the first place I’ve ever been in that simply doesn’t do vegetables. We went for the prawns instead. These were marinated and then fried in just their shells. They were fat, juicy and fresh – very good.

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This place is great for hardcore crab fans who are happy just eating from the limited range this place has. I like how it’s straightforward and no-nonsense. Not only do they provide de rigueur nutcrackers, they also put out mallets for the tougher shells to crack. A great touch for those who would leave no crab crevice untouched.

Restoran Fatty Crab
No 2, Jln SS 24/13 , Taman Megah, Petaling Jaya,
47301 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +60-3-7804-5758

KL Food Trip: Fierce Curry House

DC wanted to indulge me on my birthday and took me to KL not just to see Noid and Cheese, but also to eat. We got rituals like going on pilgrimage to Klang out of the way quickly, and on the day of my birthday, we found ourselves at Fierce Curry House. I’d first heard of Fierce Curry House on Facebook when it ran its tight T-shirt promotion: the first few men who showed up in tight V-neck shirts and carrying a man bag would get free biryani. What a great stunt that even I heard of it down south in Singapore. When a friend posted a picture of the lobster biryani, we were sold. That’s how we found ourselves off the main Bangsar drag in front of a slightly shabby stretch of shophouses. It looks like a typical non-airconned place from the outside, with a large steamer stack full of biryanis and a large thosai/roti canai griddle in the front. Venture inside, however, and there’s a fairly spacious airconditioned area, complete with a crazy number of exhaust fans on the walls.

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We weren’t here to ogle the walls, but the large steamer full of lobster biryani that we’d pre-ordered. They’ve a poster that quite helpfully tells you to order a day in advance.

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The biryani was set over solid fuel camp stoves to keep it warm…

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… and sealed the biryani pot with dough to keep the moisture and flavour in. We were so excited we couldn’t wait for the latecomers and asked them to go ahead with the unveiling. It was such a spectacle that other tables started taking pictures of our biryani too!

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At first, we wondered where the lobster, was…

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… and pretty much sighed with relief when each half emerged after a spot of digging with the tongs.

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One of the sweet servers gamely held up the whole thing for a nice photo op before whisking it to the kitchen. We almost yelled after her, “where are you going with my lobster?!” before realising that they needed to chop it up for us first.

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In the mean time, we contented ourselves with taking pictures of the fragrant rice and accompanying gravies and raitas.

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Then the lobster made its comeback and we happily dug in.

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The verdict? The lobster itself was a tad overrated. While of a decent size, there isn’t a great deal of meat in one lobster to go with the easily six servings of rice in the pot. The meat itself was rather mushy, showing that it’s most likely frozen lobster. But the rice itself was a revelation. It was proper basmati rice that was beautifully fluffy and infused with the scent of cardamom and most strongly of lobster. Cooking it dum style sealed in all the goodness and allowed the lobster flavour to permeate. It was just as well that the lobster meat wasn’t that great. Still, for RM240, it’s expensive even by Singapore standards.

Other dishes included the highly rated deep-fried bitter gourd. It was very nicely crisp and intensely bitter – they made it with the proper kind of bitter gourd, the deep green and prettily frilled baby ones.

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We heard good things about the lamb dishes and ordered a lamb masala to complement the lobster. It was wonderfully tender and with nicely melded spices – excellent with the biryani rice or a thosai on the side.

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Fierce Curry House is a nice place to check out for the spectacle of a proper biryani. They use decent quality ingredients (especially if you consider frozen lobster decent quality), but is of course pricier because you’re paying for the brand, the Bangsar location and the aircon room. I’d go again because exchange rate is much in my favour!

Fierce Curry House
16 Jalan Kemuja, Bangsar Utama, Kuala Lumpur, MY.
Tel: +6019-383-0945 / +603-2202-3456

Starting the year by looking backwards: 2012 in review

WordPress sent me this report and I’m greatly surprised that there are so many viewers from all over the world reading this blog. Thank you all for the encouragement. I’ll do my best to blog more this year!

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 23,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas is Coming – Red Wine Jelly

I like preparing for Christmas. There’s something about the smells of cooking festive goodies that add to the delicious anticipation of 25 December. This year, I made red wine jelly for gifts. Reducing the red wine created a juicy berry and rather alcoholic fug that lingered about the house for a few hours. It’s a very simple because there’s no faffing around with peeling and chopping fruit. I just bought the cheapest bottle of varietal wine I could find – this meaning no anonymous “red table wine”. The supermarket had a shiraz and a merlot on sale for $16, so that was it. Here’s what the final results look like sitting in the fridge. Don’t they look adorable all dressed up with Christmas ribbon?

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I based my recipe on one from America’s Test Kitchen (log in required to see their recipe). Not having liquid pectin available, I substituted the powdered type. That first batch was far too sweet, although I liked the concentrated berry flavours from reducing about a third of the wine separately.

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The rest of the bottle goes into the actual jelly part, with pectin and sugar added, as is lemon juice for a punch of acidity. I added a drop of flavourless oil (in my case sunflower) to stop excessive foaming. This doesn’t mean that the mixture won’t bubble like mad. It simply means that the foam will go away, very important for a smooth top on your jelly.

If you’re not interested in preserving and want to use the jelly quickly, like in the week or so, then jump straight to the recipe at the bottom. The rest is about how to preserve in sterilised glass bottles.

One thing that people may not realise is that making preserves in Singapore isn’t easy because it’s hard to come by the right jars. The general advice is not to reuse them, or at least use new lids each time. Good luck on finding new lids for old jar. I ended up buying new ones. Proper jars with metal lids I got from Isetan ($2.50 or so per 150ml jar, more for the 300ml ones), with cheaper reinforcements from Ikea (4 for about $4). The problem with the Ikea ones are that the lids are plastic with metal paint on the top. Don’t diss them for being cheap, they’re still very smart all gussied up with Christmas ribbon.

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The second step to making preserves is to start sterilising your jars before you make the jam. There are various methods for doing it and I chose was I felt was most hassle free – using my oven. First I lined the base of a wire rack with some newspaper and put the freshly washed jars right side up, then set the oven to 150ºC. The metal lids I put in a pan of water and set it to boil. The plastic ones I left alone because I wasn’t sure if they would be able to withstand the heat of sterilisation. I just popped them on and hope the jelly still keeps. Once you’ve got your jars and lids going, get started on the jelly.

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Once the jelly is ready, cover a surface with a tea towel on which to set the jars down, and get out your funnel (or just be ultra careful when pouring) some spare tea towels and your oven mitts. Then carefully extract your bottles one by one from the oven with your mitts and place on the tea towel. Be careful, they are incredibly hot and it’s not obvious at all. Carefully transfer the jelly mixture into each bottle just up to the next. If your funnel is plastic, hold it carefully so it doesn’t touch the sides of the bottle. The jelly mixture will bubble, showing that the bottles really are hot! When the bottles are all filled, carefully use a damp cloth to wipe away any stray jelly mixture on the screw threads. Fish out your lids one by one from the hot water, dry with a clean tea towel and screw on gingerly till fairly tight but don’t force it all the way. (If using the Ikea bottles, forget about inverting. Just make sure the bottles are as clean as you can make them and finish the contents quickly. I’d say keep in the fridge and consume within a month.)

Now carefully turn each bottle over – this is to ensure that the lids are screwed on correctly. Then leave to cool. If not screwed right, quickly turn right way up and sort out the mess if this happens (yup – been there, done that). Rinse and reboil the lid, top up with whatever jelly you may have left, screw on the lid tightly. Then put this stray bottle back in the hot oven and leave for about 20 minutes. Remove and screw the cap on tightly, then invert and allow to cool with the rest.

It’s not as hard as it sounds from the above passage. Just read through carefully and take your time for the first attempt. Ready for the recipe?

Ingredients:

1 750ml bottle of red wine (merlot or shiraz both work well)
500g sugar
50g powdered pectin
3 tbsp lemon juice
drop of unflavoured oil

Method:

  1. Sterilise your bottles and caps (see preceding paragraphs).
  2. Reduce about a third of the wine (200ml if you’re measuring) in a small pan over medium heat till reduced to about 50ml or so. It takes about 20 minutes.
  3. In the mean time, heat the remaining wine on high, then mix the sugar and powdered pectin thoroughly in a bowl. Add the sugar-pectin mixture to the hot wine and bring to a rapid bowl. Add the drop of oil.
  4. Reduce the heat so it bubbles but not threaten to boil over. Stir occasionally for about 10 minutes or till you don’t see anymore pectin granules.
  5. Stir in reduced wine and turn off the heat.
  6. Pour into sterilised jars, cap, and allow to cool.

Makes 4 150ml jars.

Semi-Authentic Bolognese Ragu

I was looking for an old bolognese recipe from Delia Smith that involved chicken livers (love them!) but came across an even more authentic version from the Accademia Italiana della Cucina. Sadly, it involved very expensive ingredients, like pancetta in large proportions, and impossible to find ones, like triple concentrated tomato paste. Everything else, however, was relatively easy to find, and was surprisingly simple. I was surprised to find that there isn’t any garlic in true-blue bolognese, neither is there bay leaf or other herb. I substituted bacon for pancetta and passata (sieved tomato puree) for the tomato paste. The hint of tomato adds to the flavour backdrop and the surprise ingredient was milk, which added richness and unctuousness to the sauce. The only embellishment allowed was porcini mushrooms. I was delighted because I have a giant bulk bottle of dried ones bought at a very reasonable price at the gourmet store. This, together with the bacon, tomato and red wine added melded wonderfully with the beef to give an unbelievably rich and complex sauce, better than anything at even the most “authentic” Italian restaurant in Singapore.

It freezes really well and I now make it in bulk. Check out the quantities I used for 1kg of minced beef! First I minced all the solid ingredients as finely as possible. Onion, carrot and celery went into my mini electric chopper and came out in tiny bits. I unsuccessfully asked for my bacon to be minced at the butchers, but the Culina counter doesn’t do it! My electric chopper didn’t do very well chopping up the bacon, so much of it was done by hand. Will try to partially freeze the bacon next time, or get a better chopper.

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It was then a simple, but rather laborious task of first browning and releasing the fat from the bacon and then sweating the vegetables in the rendered bacon fat (mmm… bacon!). Then add the meat and keep stirring, followed by the rest of the ingredients. It makes so much that my giant wok can barely take all of it, and gets quite watery at the beginning especially when I couldn’t get triple concentrated tomato paste and had to substitute passata instead. But bubbling it for about four hours and stirring every now and then yields a thick brown sauce that clings easily to noodles.

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I like my spaghetti bolognese, as inauthentic as it is, and served it with a hurried grating of parmesan cheese and blanched green vegetables. When I defrost a portion for dinner, I tend to cook the pasta (sometimes using linguine or penne) till bordering al dente, and fry the noodles in the sauce, adding a bit of pre-salted cooking water from the pasta till it’s al dente. It’s a wonderful post-work dinner when you can’t imagine doing any laborious cooking yet want something comforting. Plus, it’s fairly healthy considering that it’s about 50:50 meat to vegetable content.

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Ingredients

3 big handfuls dried porcini or as much as you can spare
5 onions
5 carrots
8 stalks celery
500 g bacon
1 tbsp oil
1 kg minced beef
200ml passata
200ml red wine, white wine or vermouth
200ml milk

Method:

  1. Rinse the porcini briefly and soak in a little water to soften.
  2. Chop finely the onions, carrots, celery and bacon.
  3. In the biggest pan you can find, heat the oil gently and add the bacon, frying till most of the fat is rendered and the bacon bits are golden brown.
  4. Add the chopped vegetables and sweat for about 10 minutes or till vegetables are translucent.
  5. Turn up the heat slightly to about medium-high. Add the minced beef and break up any chunks. Keep doing it till the meat is browned in parts and you’re having trouble keeping the mixture from burning.
  6. Add the passata, wine and milk. Stir till all the stuck on bit at the bottom of the pan are scraped up.
  7. Strain the porcini, keeping the soaking liquid. Cut up any large bits and add both porcini. Filter the liquid to remove grit (I normally use a paper stock bag as a filter) and add the liquid to the pan.
  8. Turn down the heat to the lowest possible and simmer for four hours, stirring occasionally.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving on hot pasta. Or let cool completely and freeze in single or double serving bags.

Makes a lot, probably about 20 servings.

Time for a Change, Perhaps?

It’s been a while since I last posted. Even my biggest fan, DC, has given up checking back because he knows I’ve been busy with other things.

It’s not easy to keep a blog. First, other things in life complicates the time and space to write the blog posts. Up till September, it was an especially busy work schedule coupled with illness, and then death, in the family. The funny thing is how one keeps chugging on, keeping the pieces together all the way until the difficult period passes. It wasn’t till October, when things lightened up somewhat, that I thought to myself – sod it, this blog is my outlet, why feel guilty about (not) keeping it up? I gave myself the month off, telling myself that I’d start again upon return from a R&R holiday. After my return, I did indeed upload photos to Flickr and block out the outline of the posts, but felt so exhausted at the end of it that it all still lies languishing. At about the same time, a friend asked how I stock my freezer. I happily wrote out a draft when I lost concentration at work, but it swiftly morphed into a long list.

I realise that it really should be less effort to keep up this blog. I’ll write shorter posts and perhaps put the photos into a montage instead of commenting on every photo. I’ll be less crazy about making sure the posts are balanced. Sometimes I eat out more and there are more great places to write about. Other times I cook a lot and there’s lots in that department. Yet other times, there’s nowhere worth eating at and I go back to the same trusty dishes I’ve been making. What do I do in these instances?

This led into some existentialist angst on behalf of the blog – the name itself keeps me to food and travel. Shocking as it is, food and travel aren’t the sum total of my obsessions. I bought some house cleaning gadgets in the past few months and would like to share some of my extensive online research on how to buy them and not to make the same mistakes I made! I also started playing Diablo 3 a lot more, and Starcraft 2 after pre-ordering the expansion pack. I also have a garden that I’m somewhat less interested in, but I hope to start on some herbs and vegetables at some point. How do I fit all this into this blog.

A name change seems to be on the cards. Does anyone read this blog still? If you do, let me know by commenting and let me know whether I should keep the name or change it. If it’s for change, what name do you suggest?